It's that time of year once again. With the regular season firmly behind us, we head into the Promised Land for college basketball fans. It's the time of year where all that matters is just going 1-and-0 every game and staying alive. This. Is. March.
For Northwestern Women's Basketball, this is a March that is a far cry from 2015. A team that once appeared to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament has stumbled mightily in Big Ten play. However the Wildcats still have a chance to make a deep run into the Big Ten Tournament. That potential run starts Wednesday against Wisconsin in Indianapolis.
Here's a look at the tournament bracket:
Game 1: No. 12 Northwestern vs No. 13 Wisconsin
Time: 12:30 p.m. CT
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: WNUR 89.3 FM
This is a game that Northwestern should win, and a game that it should win easily. The Badgers are not a good basketball team. They went 7-21 on the season, and 3-15 in the Big Ten. They were swept by Illinois, the worst team in the conference, and both losses were by double digits. Wisconsin has lost each of its last six games, including a 71-53 loss to Northwestern at the Kohl Center on February 20. All things considered, this shouldn't be a difficult matchup for the Wildcats.
However, with the way this season has gone, nothing is a given for Northwestern. Wisconsin does have two somewhat impressive wins under its belt in conference play, a win over Indiana in late December and a win over Purdue in early February. This may have been a case of catching these teams at the right time however, as Indiana has come on as of late and finished fourth in the Big Ten, while Purdue has faded to a sixth place finish.
The Badgers' best player is Nicole Bauman, who averages 15.5 points per game on the season. She also averages 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals per contest. More importantly, she is one of the Big Ten's best shooters with a 40.5 hit rate from downtown. If the Wildcats want to make things easier on themselves, they need to put extra emphasis on stopping Bauman, something they did very well the last time these two teams played.
The other player who may give Northwestern trouble is 6-foot-3 forward Michala Johnson. Johnson is the team's third leading scorer at 11.8 points per game, and the leading rebounder with 6.6 per game. Northwestern has had trouble with tall teams, so that is another matchup to keep an eye on.
Northwestern's path beyond Wednesday is about as generous as it could have been. If they get past Wisconsin, the Wildcats have a rematch with Minnesota and Rachel Banham looming. This isn't as terrible as it looks though, as both of Northwestern's losses to Minnesota this year have been very close affairs. This of course includes the double overtime game at Welsh-Ryan in which Banham tied the NCAA single-game scoring record.
After Minnesota is Indiana, a team that many think is overrated, and another recipient of a close win over the Wildcats. Making it to Saturday is not impossible for Northwestern, especially with the way the bracket has set up. On Saturday though, Northwestern would likely meet Maryland, which is where the Cinderella story would almost surely end.
As for the rest of the bracket there isn't much else to write home about. The Rutgers vs. Nebraska game on Thursday should be fun, but there isn't much opportunity for unexpected upsets anywhere in the bracket. The final should set up to be Maryland against the winner of Michigan State and Ohio State.
As seen above in the bracket, every game of the tournament Wednesday through Saturday can be seen on the Big Ten Network. Sunday evening's final will be aired on ESPN.